News

New plan aims to broaden 'grade separation' debate

Palo Alto's new approach faces criticism for not including stakeholder group

It will likely be Palo Alto's most disruptive infrastructure project in generations and potentially its most controversial.

As Palo Alto moves ahead with its effort to separate the railroad tracks from local streets at the city's four rail intersections, City Council members agreed Tuesday that the public needs to be fully engaged from the beginning of the journey to the end.

"We're going to talk about disrupting Alma Street for two years or more," Vice Mayor Liz Kniss said. "We're going to be talking about asking people if they would mind leaving their homes. We're really embarking on an incredible process."

While her colleagues concurred, there was less consensus on the optimal path toward consensus on what's known as "grade separations" the design in which railroad tracks and streets no longer intersect. To date, the most popular solution under consideration has been constructing a trench for the rail system.

Even though the council ultimately voted Tuesday night to approve a plan for engaging residents in the process of planning for grade separations, some members of the council and the community warned that this plan falls short of what's required.

The approach the council approved by a 7-2 vote, with Councilwomen Karen Holman and Lydia Kou dissenting, includes focus groups, community workshops, online surveys, website updates, email newsletters, a technical advisory committee composed of rail experts and city staff, and public hearings in front of the Planning and Transportation Commission, the council's Rail Committee and the full City Council.

In addition, the council favored making the Rail Committee discussions more interactive so that members of the public would be welcome to attend and offer their thoughts. If the process goes as planned, it would result in the city's adoption of a preferred design alternative for grade separations by March.

Mayor Greg Scharff, who made the motion to approve the process proposed by City Manager James Keene and city planning staff, said the goal is to get people engaged early so that "they don't suddenly wake up one day, after we go through a long community-engagement process, and say, 'Wait. You're taking my house?'"

Some council members argued that the approved process doesn't go far enough in achieving that goal. They focused not on what's in the plan but on what isn't: namely, a stakeholders' group featuring both technical experts and Palo Alto residents. Some community members, including founders of the rail watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) and former Mayor Pat Burt, emphasized the importance of appointing a diverse stakeholders' group that would help guide the design process. The council opted to leave out such a group.

Burt and CARRD co-founder Nadia Naik argued that by omitting the stakeholders' group, the city is effectively straying from the design process known as "Context Sensitive Solution" (CSS), which council members had previously pledged to follow. The process, which was used by the U.S. Department of Transportation to design the nation's highways, emphasizes a "collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders to develop a transportation facility that fits its physical setting," according to a department definition.

Palo Alto Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello said that under this approach, it's the community that drives the decision-making process. However, he disputed the notion that this necessitates a stakeholders' group, a position with which the council majority agreed.

But Naik, whose watchdog group has staunchly advocated for the community-driven process, said a stakeholders' group that includes laymen and technical experts on the same panel was exactly what made CARRD such a proponent of the context-sensitive approach. Given the council's decision not to form the group, Naik asked council members to stop using the term "CSS" altogether.

"This is the difference between butter and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter -- and people can tell the difference," Naik said.

Burt, former chair of the Rail Committee, wrote in a guest opinion this week that the approach offered by staff "heists the term 'CSS' to describe a hollowed-up process that lacks the backbone of the empowered multi-stakeholder group." It's critical, Burt argued, to have both broad public engagement and a stakeholder group that can delve deeper into the technical issues involving the rail corridor.

Councilman Tom DuBois, who chairs the council's Rail Committee, made a motion to create the stakeholders' group, but his proposal failed by a 3-6 vote, with only Councilwomen Karen Holman and Lydia Kou joining him.

Grade separations, DuBois said, will affect the community in a much bigger way than the construction of Oregon Expressway a half-century ago. The council, he said, should not go forward with what he characterized a "primarily staff-driven process."

"I'm already hearing concerns from the community about process," DuBois said. "I worry if we continue in this way, it's going to blow up on us."

Scharff disagreed and argued that a process in which the council's Rail Committee invites the broader public to attend the meetings and weigh in on the issue does more to foster community engagement than a "small stakeholder group."

"By coming to us as decision makers, you'll have more of an impact than you would speaking to a small stakeholder group and making those points," Scharff said.

Related content:

Behind the Headlines: Redesigning rail

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Comments

24 people like this
Posted by FAKE CSS
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 7, 2017 at 4:03 am

The process the Council has voted for will definitely be what Pat Burt calls DAD --Design, Attack, Defend.

A perfect example is the complete streets concepts which forces streets and roads that are not wide enough to accommodate all modes of transportation. Wild ugly paint on streets, all the poles and plastic bubble on streets like the ones in front of Jordan Middle school and those on Charleston. Forcing residential neighborhoods and streets to traffic patterns that city staff has no idea if effective or not and of course, there is no enforcement; traffic enforcement or otherwise. City staff has been defending hoping residents will get fed up and give up.

The process approved by Council for this so-called Context Sensitive Solution for the rail corridor design and implementation is a short cut and long term solutions for generations to come should not be short cut. It is a waste of taxpayers' money.

Is this a political move to pave the way for HSR? YES. That is mostly the reason why people will be losing their houses to eminent domain.


23 people like this
Posted by Tina
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2017 at 5:05 am

We are one of the wealthiest places on earth but we squabble like entitled children over common-sense infrastructure questions! We have enough 10-year tax revenue to rebuild the entire CalTrain system 27 times over 20 years. Just do what is right already.


8 people like this
Posted by Patrick
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2017 at 6:09 am

The barrier to doing what is right is a rich person's comfort. Our society is disgusting.


10 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2017 at 9:35 am

The preferred trench won't be so preferred after the time to complete is 10 years at a cost of $2 billion. Get real, use either overpasses or underpasses and leave the tracks alone.


14 people like this
Posted by Alma Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2017 at 10:33 am

Lawsuits will tie up this project up for years. Last article stated that up to 30 homes needed to be purchased for this project to be built. Don't see that happening without a fight.


10 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2017 at 10:59 am

"Last article stated that up to 30 homes needed to be purchased for this project to be built."

This is more fear and rumor mongering. No decision has been made yet so no one knows if any homes will be taken at all.

"focus groups, community workshops, online surveys, website updates, email newsletters, a technical advisory committee composed of rail experts and city staff; and public hearings in front of the Planning and Transportation Commission, the council's Rail Committee and the full City Council"

It's going to be years and years before the city is even close to a decision. You could put a man on Mars before Palo Alto has grade separation.


22 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 7, 2017 at 11:14 am

Annette is a registered user.

I recognize I am putting the cart way before the horse here, but IF decisions are made and funding obtained for grade separation, I sure hope that CC will suspend other development during the construction period b/c our infrastructure cannot handle the re-routing that the grade separation project will require PLUS all the traffic impact that accompanies the usual level of construction in Palo Alto. As is, one accident has ripple effects on surrounding roadways; circulation without Alma will be very challenging.


8 people like this
Posted by Sean
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Leave the tracks in place. But use them only for freight trains, about once per day (at night). Eliminate CalTrain and replace it with BART (elevated) on a graceful looking viaduct (above the existing tracks) . Completely reject high speed rail schemes between SF and LA. Problem solved...you can all lay back and sip a martini.


16 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Sounds to me like "broaden the debate" means intentionally endless delays. We are not going to get BART down the peninsula in my lifetime or probably in my children's lifetime either. Should we delay safer and more efficient Caltrain crossings until my great-grandchildren's lifetime?


23 people like this
Posted by big trouble
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:02 pm

@FAKE CSS has it exactly right. The City staff
is out of control. Uglier and uglier and more
dangerous streets is what we are getting. It is rampant. No respect for neighborhoods or accepted traffic engineering practices,resident input or even common sense.I drive Cal Ave at Jordan every day. It is extremely dangerous for turning vehicles, and as a result bicyclists,pedestrians.



9 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:22 pm

Ah, yes, how wonderful it is to allow me to go speak and offer my non-expert opinion on grade separation. My opinion, along with a few hundred other non-experts' opinions will take up a lot of time to dissect and come up with anything meaningful. That means delays and more delays. Let the experts analyze the pros and cons and present them to us, thru our elected officials...CC members. If they are really as close to the needs of their constituents as they claim to be, they will feel the pulse of our community and act on it. Let's face it...there will never be a 'right solution' that satisfies everyone. And yes, CC members' futures will be on the line. It's time to test them.

BTW, when will we see the quarterly report on the ADU status that was promised? How many permits applied for, how many approved, and how many built?
And who were they built for? Family members, or to raise income to pay off mortgages, take cruises, et al?


20 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:44 pm

I tend to agree to a large part with Gale above.

I think a large number of non-experts will make some interesting points but for the most part will not be workable, just like many of these comments on these threads. There just might be an innovative idea out there, but finding it from all the cranky ones will be difficult.

What I will say though is that the ones who have to make the decisions should be familiar with the issues. They should be Caltrain users. They should be Alma users. They should have kids who cross the tracks every day to get to the high schools. They should be people who drive across the tracks on a regular basis and at all times of day, workday, commute times, evenings and weekends.

In other words, we do not want experts who think they know because they are familiar with similar problems elsewhere. We do want experts who know the issues because they deal with them every day. In fact, most of us may not be called experts from a technical point of view, but are experts in the problems that the grade crossings present.


6 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:48 pm

What I would expect from the experts: Cost trade-offs and how each option would be funded, time frame to implement, and the impacts/inconveniences of each option, how many people would be affected, and what alternate routes will commuters have to take to get to work?

My one opinion would probably only be a complaint about how many light changes I have to wait for making a left turn off Alma to get to my home. Oh, how I suffer! Not!


21 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:51 pm

The reason CARRD needs to get off it stakeholder kick is that there are too many stakeholders who go off the rails so to speak. Our friend Sean here is still talking about BART more than 50 years after SM and SC Counties shot it down.

As Gale points out, it is the role of CC to take input directly from citizens and then step up to the plate, earn their big bucks, and make the final decision.
Stakeholder groups are a means of delay and deflecting decision.

If CARRD is so smart, why don't they roll out their own solution to CC instead of coming up with more delaying tactics? What has changed in the last 5 years that warrants further delay? What great revelation are you expecting a year from now? Just lay out the alternatives and pick one. No decision is perfect, but almost any decision is better than further delay. It is a concept that CARRD doesn't seem to understand.


9 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:53 pm

@Sean:

What is the point of your comment. BART up and down the Peninsula would require YEARS of interagency negotiations amongst parties who have rejected BART over and over again. Then a funding stream would have to be developed. VTA grant money decisions for Grade Separations may begin next March. Palo Alto can be ready, or be left behind. All the folks whining about Stakeholder groups are still allowed to attend meetings and speak for themselves as individuals. Let's get on with it!


9 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 7, 2017 at 2:05 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Resident & Gale - What experts, specifically, are you so willing to place your trust in? The "Rail Committee" isn't made up of experts. James Keene isn't an expert. I'm not aware of any city staff that would qualify as an "expert" based on experience in the rail industry. Putting your faith in experts is a secular fantasy akin to leaving it to angels to solve. Even if there were actual experts making the decisions, I'd prefer actual residents and homeowners make these decisions because it is our skin in the game.


6 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 7, 2017 at 2:34 pm

@John_:

How does living in Crescent Park influence your view of this exercise. I have lived within a mile of Caltrain since Southern Pacific ran it in 1962. I did not cross it for PAUSD schools, but I crossed it for Stanford, commuted on it to both San Francisco and San Jose, and now ride it as a Giants fan. Stakeholder Groups just allow those with opinions to be lazy by getting others to express them. We elect folks to make decisions. We can insist they get expert advice on technical matters. In 30 years of infrastructure work, much of it controversial, few stakeholder groups have offered anything useful or feasible. They certainly delay projects however. Palo Alto can't afford to act entitled, or risk ending up with no money to do anything.


22 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Caltrain electrification is just the whole CalHSR boondoggle on a smaller scale. A system that is not designed to serve the transportation needs of the region but to funnel federal, state, and local tax dollars through construction companies and unions into political campaign coffers.

Like the CalHSR boondoggle Caltrain electrification is obsolete 60-70 year old technology even before the decade long construction process has even started. Like CalHSR the construction cost is way too high and will end up way over budget. Like CalHSR Caltrain electrification will only serve a very small fraction of the regions population (<1%), and like CalHSR when Caltrain electrification is finished a ride will cost way too much compared to the alternative.

Worst of all, like CalHSR, Caltrain electrification and the enabling grade-separation will divide communities and destroy homes and lives through through the taking of private properties and blight.

Spending hundreds of millions of dollars, taking 60-80 homes in Palo Alto alone, and blighting hundreds more so Caltrain can increase its capacity by 6,000 riders is a bad deal for Palo Alto residents.



13 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 7, 2017 at 3:38 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Old Steve - I also live within a mile of the tracks, as do a good number of CP residents. It doesn't particularly influence my view, but crossing the tracks 2-4 times day does. How is "Stakeholder Groups just allow those with opinions to be lazy by getting others to express them" any different from "we elect people to make decisions" because we are too lazy to make them all ourselves? They are both acts of delegation, and in this case I'd rather delegate to residents of the city, than city staff.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2017 at 4:09 pm

Get real.

Whatever you think you want, you can't/won't afford it. Close those crossings or learn to live with them.


9 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 7, 2017 at 4:53 pm

I believe Palo Altans have been short-sighted. While lobbying for grade separation money to be included in Measure B, nobody continued to push concepts along after the old Rail Committee died. Even with the Measure B litigation yet to unfold, not much has been advanced since the election. Even 30 years ago, Supervisor (now Representative) Lofgren, as Chair of the Traffic Authority knew enough to keep pushing Caltrans. Route 85 was opened in less than ten years, even though Caltrans told her it would take at least 17. Caltrain Electrification won't take ten years, not likely to even take five to get through Palo Alto. We could have already decided on a trench and voted on local funding to help support construction. Or we could get over ourselves and support projects similar to those in San Carlos, Belmont, and San Bruno. Nope, too interested in being "special". Acquiring residential properties at market value may still be less expensive than trenching. Nobody has been asking most of these questions for most of the last three years, and now time is running short. Palo Altans need to hold their City Council accountable.


12 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2017 at 4:54 pm

True experts, i.e. qualified civil engineers, won't waste time on such fanciful ideas as Hyperloops, self-driving cars, BART down the peninsula, a five-mile trench or tunnel through town with a bike path on top or eliminating Caltrain entirely, all of which have been suggested here at one time or another. They also won't muddle the disparate issues of grade separation, electrification and HSR. A civil engineer won't p*ss and moan, lie and fear-monger about politics, boondoggles, percentage of population served, blight and ruined lives.

A competent firm will propose several alternatives based on what can be built within real-world parameters such as aquifers, creek crossings, automobile-traffic movements and clearances, grades the trains can travel over, access to driveways, accessibility to bikes, peds and autos, political boundaries, safety and cost.

Either the trains go over the cars or the cars go over the trains. The solutions fall into several broad categories:

1. Put the trains in a trench or tunnel

2. "split" or "hybrid" crossings

3. An elevated viaduct for the trains

4. Automotive overpasses a la San Antonio

5. A giant monstrosity like a freeway interchange complete with cloverleaves and which requires the taking of many surrounding properties

If a couple of guiding principles are set down it will help focus the discussion.

1. The trains (Caltrain and freight) aren't going away.

2. BART isn't coming down the peninsula

3. No property should be taken through eminent domain. At $2 million FMV per home, taking property through eminent domain is prohibitive.

4. Palo Alto has four existing grade-separated crossings which should be left intact (San Antonio, Oregon, Embarcadero, University). Rebuilding these crossings is unnecessary and would be cost prohibitive.

While y'all are squabbling over trenches and viaducts, the CC should be talking about funding. The measure B money will pay but a small fraction of the cost of grade sep. in Palo Alto. Where will the rest of the money come from?


12 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2017 at 5:07 pm

"Caltrain electrification and the enabling grade-separation will divide communities and destroy homes and lives through through the taking of private properties and blight.

"Spending hundreds of millions of dollars, taking 60-80 homes in Palo Alto alone, and blighting hundreds more so Caltrain can increase its capacity by 6,000 riders is a bad deal for Palo Alto residents."

How exactly does electrification require "taking 60-80 homes in Palo Alto"? The answer is, it doesn't. It's not going to "ruin" anyone's life, either.

More lies and fear mongering from you. You make a great case for less "community involvement", not more.


7 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2017 at 5:17 pm

"we could get over ourselves and support projects similar to those in San Carlos, Belmont, and San Bruno."

This is a big concern of mine. Those options have not been adequately considered for Palo Alto. Instead, M.M. has proposed a ridiculous monstrosity which lays waste to the terrain for several blocks around.


12 people like this
Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2017 at 5:36 pm

This looks likely to be one of the largest and most complicated public works projects ever done in Palo Alto. I for one am glad to see the city looking out years in the future, to a time when electrified Caltrain and theoretically HSR are running trains more or less constantly during peak commute hours, and our current grade-level crossings at Charleston, Meadow, Churchill, and Alma will have become nearly impassible at those times if unchanged.

This whole effort is so daunting that you want to wish it would just not happen. But as at least one poster above said, any grade separation effort in Palo Alto will take years to complete. Even if everybody had all the answers today, the likelihood is we’d still be behind the train expansion.

This is going to involve an immense, broad and deep community discussion. I wish we had, as one poster above suggested, so much money lying around that we could just do whatever we wanted. But it’s likely to be much more challenging than that. ODB above is correct that financing alone will be a very complicated effort.

I’d encourage everybody interested to come to the next workshop, which is Saturday Sept 16, 10am-2pm at the Art Center on Newell: Web Link. The plan is for Staff to have some further analysis of some of the main directions this could go in. The more community brains thinking about this, the better. But if you do miss this one - there’ll be more.


30 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 7, 2017 at 7:08 pm

Annette is a registered user.

"The council, he [DuBois] said, should not go forward with what he characterized a "primarily staff-driven process."

That may be the understatement of the century. The notion of a "primarily staff-driven process" should concern everyone. This issue demands expertise and experience. And coordination. And long term planning. Look around and critically evaluate transportation related issues in this city (signal coordination, roundabouts, road diets, bicycle lanes, speed reduction measures, traffic congestion, parking, etc.) Then ask how smart it is to rely on these same people - many of whom do not have any skin in the game - to drive the process for extremely complex, expensive, and disruptive issues such as grade separation, electrification, and HSR.

I do not have the answers or any level of engineering expertise, but I do know when to be worried.




1 person likes this
Posted by knot in our pants
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2017 at 8:37 pm

I notice that when the "community" has to pay, all of a sudden the "community" has to be involved from the beginning to the end.

Does every city do this alone?




10 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2017 at 8:47 pm

Annette -

I refer to them generically as "city officials". Whether they are CC or hired staff, whatever. They sat on the H.M.M. engineering study for 3 years and did nothing with it. There will have been, what, a grand total of two community meetings in all of 2017? And there was some "rail corridor" study in 2010 IIRC which was never acted on. And not one thought has been given to funding this many years later. The measure B money sort of fell into their laps and will pay for the first shovelful of dirt. So yeah, the project is moving along at a snail's pace.

It seems every few years they start all over from square one on this subject, as if nothing they had done previously counts any more.


27 people like this
Posted by Bill Ross
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 7, 2017 at 10:16 pm

The May 2017 proceeding should be recalled. Several issues were raised with respect to which neither City Staff nor the retained consultant had the answers: who the actual owner of the rail lines was; what the current policy of the State Public Utilities Commission is in evaluating at-grade versus seperated grade crossings was; what recent seperated grade crossings have cost; what the experience is of SMART (Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit) was: the actual HSR right of way: the relationship of HSR ROW to the electrification of Caltrain? The response to all these issues was "we will get back to you" Now the same five members of the Council that continue to approve office development (without any apparent connection with the jobs housing balance) have suddenly decided that the public must be kept engaged and informed?! It is disheartening that a former Mayor has to inform City Staff of the actual planned right of way of HSR (taking most of Palo Alto High's athletic field), yet we are now going to rely on City Staff to inform the public?? Where were the regular reports of the Council member with the most knowledge of VTA and Measure B and its planned use for most of the rest of the County but not Palo Alto not to mention the legal challenge to Measure B? The lack of a current understanding of the clearly integrated issues ofCal Train, HSR, the ongoing and increasing traffic congestion at at grade crossings and continued Office development need to be addressed now not after other agencies have predetermined Palo Alto's future. The current course goes nowhere, protects no one, no neighborhood no business. The Council needs to severely question the City Manager and Staff why there has been a lack of integrated planning and knowledge of what is actually occurring on the long existing rail corridor in the City.


17 people like this
Posted by big trouble
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2017 at 10:42 pm

@Annette. Great overview of the mess we are facing
here in Palo Alto on our streets. It is a debacle
in every respect.Yet the City Council does not
curtail the staff. Traffic engineering,no matter
how it is practiced, provides cover for the Council
to pursue its pro-development agenda. So we have the worst of all worlds here - a two-pronged assault,i.e. more traffic and more traffic engineering mistakes,more signs, more paint,more
of the same which you described so well. And the
city is descending into an ugly chaos.



Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2017 at 11:45 pm

"the actual planned right of way of HSR (taking most of Palo Alto High's athletic field)"

Where did you come up with this information? I thought the "blended approach" obviated this.


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2017 at 3:10 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

@ODB: correct, the blended operations agreement between Caltrain and the HSRA keeps HSR running on Caltrain tracks and within the existing Caltrain right of way (ROW) ... with the exception of one or more possible new sections of passing track. None of the possible new passing track alternatives still under consideration are even in Santa Clara Co.

For more up to date status about SF-SJ HSR, have a look at the August presentations to the Local Policymaker Group here: Web Link

Detailed electrification (PCEP = Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project) status reports are periodically posted to the Caltrain board meeting agenda page here: Web Link


14 people like this
Posted by Onlinr Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 9, 2017 at 10:09 am

Annette's post above bears repeating! She's absolutely right,.

""The council, he [DuBois] said, should not go forward with what he characterized a "primarily staff-driven process."

That may be the understatement of the century. The notion of a "primarily staff-driven process" should concern everyone. This issue demands expertise and experience. And coordination. And long term planning. Look around and critically evaluate transportation related issues in this city (signal coordination, roundabouts, road diets, bicycle lanes, speed reduction measures, traffic congestion, parking, etc.) Then ask how smart it is to rely on these same people - ..."

Further, the Transportation Dept. repeatedly fails at basic "outreach" even to those directly effected. It blatantly ignores known problems for years, refuses to respond to complaints and then when REALLY pressed, passes the buck to the county.

Their opinion survey designs are designed to discourage input. You're not warned in advance that you're limited to X responses so your whole survey response is invalidated when you pick X + 1.

"How smart is it to rely on" them? Not at all in my book.


12 people like this
Posted by Onlinr Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 9, 2017 at 10:19 am

"We're going to talk about disrupting Alma Street for two years or more," Vice Mayor Liz Kniss said. "We're going to be talking about asking people if they would mind leaving their homes. We're really embarking on an incredible process."

Does Ms. Kniss really think people are going to be happy to leave their homes for years???

Are we going to pay for people's hotel stays during this period? How much will we be paying people for their homes?

Where does the CC and staff think all the Alma traffic is going to go?

Onto our already gridlocked streets! How about declaring a moratorium on ALL big construction projects during this period? How about ditching the idea of giving Casti its own "Lexus lane" off already jammed Embarcadero at least until this is done?


4 people like this
Posted by HSR = Evil
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2017 at 11:03 am

"@ODB: correct, the blended operations agreement between Caltrain and the HSRA keeps HSR running on Caltrain tracks and within the existing Caltrain right of way (ROW) ... with the exception of one or more possible new sections of passing track. None of the possible new passing track alternatives still under consideration are even in Santa Clara Co."

Actually no. As usual, HSR is going back on its agreement and is now pushing for passing tracks in Palo Alto behind closed doors. You simply can't trust the HSR folks.


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2017 at 11:28 am

Everyone assumes homes will be taken. No decision has been made as yet on whether any homes will be taken at all. There are options which involve no taking of property through eminent domain. Ms. Kniss revealed her ignorance by making that statement.

As Reality Check pointed out, the right of way will NOT be expanded for electrification or for HSR.

Jerry Brown will be out of office in scant over a year. If the new governor is any good, he or she will pull the plug on HSR and let it die a merciful death. It's anybody's guess as to whether HSR will actually ever be built.

"Does Ms. Kniss really think people are going to be happy to leave their homes for years???"

For years? If a property is taken it is because the land is needed permanently. The homeowners would have to relocate permanently.

"How much will we be paying people for their homes?"

Fair market value, which in Palo Alto is about $2 million per home and which makes any plan which involves property taking expensive and infeasible.


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2017 at 11:33 am

As usual, HSR is going back on its agreement and is now pushing for passing tracks in Palo Alto behind closed doors. You simply can't trust the HSR folks.

Just how do you come by this information if it's being done "behind closed doors"? Sounds like more fear mongering and cruft to me.


16 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2017 at 12:41 pm

There is nothing "fair" about paying people "fair market value" for their homes.

In a constitutional republic with property rights people should be able to sell their homes for whatever the market will bear or not sell them at all.

If Palo Alto wants to buy homes or any other real-estate to build-out Caltrain's infrastructure they should buy them on the open market, not through eminent domain.

Another question... why is Palo Alto even thinking about building Caltrain's infrastructure? If Palo Alto builds the infrastructure who owns it? If Palo Alto owns it, can Palo Alto charge Caltrain a toll to use it?


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2017 at 1:34 pm

"why is Palo Alto even thinking about building Caltrain's infrastructure?"

They're not.


Like this comment
Posted by Alice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2017 at 2:31 pm

I just watched the Weekly's "Behind the Headlines:Redesigning Rail". It really helped clarify what has been going on in the press in regards to at grade Caltrain crossings. Here is the link: Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Sean
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Doesn't really matter what happened 50 years ago. BART was rejected back then under much different circumstances. Now, we need BART from Salinas to SF, elevated over the of the current train tracks...so much easier and less costly and more efficient than any current proposals. Cancel HSR, build elevated BART (to replace CalTrain), leave current surface tracks in place for rare freight trains (no overpasses or underpasses necessary). Then sip on your favorite adult beverage...problem solved!


8 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 9, 2017 at 4:09 pm

While the properties along Alma are probably valued below the average for Palo Alto due to the location, the owners will not be able to purchase comparable houses in Palo Alto for $2M.

Hopefully, no one will lose their homes, but if they do, the city is likely to face a lawsuit a la Buena Vista.

Despite the cost, my feeling is that the best solution would be to put the train below ground. This would provide the most benefits for the present and greatest opportunities for the future.

Unfortunately, I am very concerned about Mr. Scharf, Ms. Kniss, and Mr. Keene leading the way. They have not shown themselves to have the best interests of our residents at heart, and lack the competence to achieve successful outcomes on far more modest projects.


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Posted by Sean
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2017 at 4:29 pm

Another benefit of my vision on BART is that eminent domain would be limited, if used at all. So, all those homeowners along Alma can relax. Our approach should satisfy Occam's razor, not political machinations.


5 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 9, 2017 at 5:09 pm

BART is expensive!

When it was proposed, the cost of the 3.2-mile elevated tram line ro the Oakland Airport was put at about $134 million. By the time work began in 2010, the cost had risen to about $500 million — requiring BART to issue $110 million in bonds to pay for it.

Despite the growing costs, the project was propelled forward because it was seen as a boon for the airport and a job creator in the midst of the post-2008 economic crash.

Now, however, it’s a headache for BART — and another red line in the system’s looming $477 million budget deficit over the next decade.

Source: Web Link


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Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2017 at 5:39 pm

By all accounts, BART is not only expensive, it's trouble-prone, high-maintenance and the technology is generally obsolete. Be careful what you wish for.

BART to Salinas would require buy-in from four counties. Good luck with that.

The future of HSR depends on the next governor. If he or she decides NOT to do away with it then we'll be stuck with this white elephant and its "blended approach" with near-empty (I predict) HSR trains whizzing up and down the state.

We can discuss grade separation in Palo Alto or we can entertain pipe dreams about the "vision" for regional transit.

Thank you, Alice, for posting the link to that video.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 9, 2017 at 8:22 pm

Salinas to San Fran by BART would take 3 hours each direction.


Like this comment
Posted by Sean
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2017 at 8:28 pm

Expect any major public transportation project to be expensive. So are highways for automobiles (don't forget all that maintenance!). Wasted time in traffic jams is also quite expensive (as the old saying goes, "Time is money"). Grade separations are expensive and disruptive, too. Best not to get hung up on construction costs (always take the initial proposed costs and triple them into reality). The overpowering focus should be on effectiveness and opportunity into the future. BART has proven to be effective, although it is taken for granted (and it needs to be improved). If BART took the place of
CalTrain, it would be a huge success. It should extend down to Salinas, because that is where the future workforce for Silicon Valley will live.


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Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2017 at 8:46 pm

Theoretically Caltrain could extend service to Salinas with no new construction -- the tracks are already in place. The main hurdles are that Caltrain is owned by San Francisco/San Mateo/Santa Clara counties. Salinas is in Monterey county, outside the jurisdiction of PCJPB, and they would have to lease the ROW from U.P. (which they already do for the Gilroy service).


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 9, 2017 at 9:08 pm

Theoretically Amtrak already serves Salinas by rail.
One hour 40 minutes for the 70 miles to or from San Jose Diridon.
Once a day each direction.


4 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2017 at 3:49 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

BART is "effective" because they actually have always had a dedicated funding source and a budget to actually run transit-level service. Service (frequency, speed/end-to-end travel time, capacity and station locations) is what determines ridership — notice what's missing? Technology! Train color, shape, branding/naming doesn't matter. What matters is running service, and Caltrain with its Southern Pacific RR "Peninsula Commute Service" heritage, has never run anywhere near BART-comparable transit-level service (which is mainly about running more off-peak midday, night, weekend and holiday service). And that's far more easily, more quickly, more cheaply and far, far less impactfully achieved by staying with and incrementally upgrading Caltrain ... as is currently underway.

Even today's diesel Caltrain already has comparable cruising speed and capacity. Station locations are, for the most part, great, and, if anything, would be reduced with BART because it's barrier-oriented "heavy"/intrusive stations are comparatively far more expensive and must be manned by a do-nothing minders BART calls "station agents". With already-funded and underway electrification and state-of-the-art spiffy new Swiss trains, Caltrain will use 100% green electricity, have superior acceleration and regenerative braking (energy is returned to the overhead wire).

And with SB 797, expected to be passed into law any day now, voters across the 3 Caltrain member-counties would on a future ballot (TBD) have the opportunity to approve Caltrain's first and only dedicated funding source for both operating and capital needs via a 1/8-cent sales tax.

If you do a deep dive into the subject, replacing Caltrain with BART is about the biggest conceivable waste of very scarce transit capital dollars imaginable ... if you were to keep today's station locations/spacing, replacing Caltrain with BART could easily cost $200-$300 million per mile. (Note: according to the recently released BART-Livermore phase I extension DEIR, extending BART 5.5 miles and only 1 station stop at ground level in the median of I-580 from the Dublin/Pleasanton station to Livermore's Isabel Road overpass will cost $1.2b, or $218m per mile in FY2016 dollars.)

Finally, a question for "HSR = Evil", who or what told you that "HSR is going back on its agreement and is now pushing for passing tracks in Palo Alto behind closed doors", and why did you believe them?

Separate from that, be aware there is no agreement proscribing the construction and use of one or more sections of passing track to allow HSR trains making at most only one station stop (at Millbrae/SFO) between SF and SJ, to pass slower Caltrain trains making many stops. Having these to allow express Caltrain or HSR trains pass slower trains makes good sense.

HSR trains blending with other trains over the last few miles to reach city stations or terminals using existing track through lower speed and/or constrained areas, has long been common and, arguably, a good practice elsewhere in the world (e.g. Germany). What isn't common is doing it over such a long distance (SF-SJ is about 47 miles), and particularly with no passing tracks. That's a recipe for horrible scheduling ... you either have to leave big service gaps so that fast trains do not catch up to and get stuck behind slower ones, or you have to have passing tracks. As mentioned, the best and normal practice is to get HSR on their own dedicated high-speed tracks as soon as possible after leaving the city center via shared track. Nowhere else in the world would they force HSR and slow trains to be on the same tracks for nearly 50 miles without lots of passing track areas.


Like this comment
Posted by Sean
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 10, 2017 at 9:03 am

@ Reality Check: Your dedication to CalTrain and HSR means we are forced to build grade separations in Palo Alto, right?


5 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2017 at 9:27 am

"a question for "HSR = Evil", who or what told you that "HSR is going back on its agreement and is now pushing for passing tracks in Palo Alto behind closed doors", and why did you believe them?"

I think he made it up and is deliberately spreading disinformation. This is usually called "trolling".

If HSR must exist, why must there be redundant rail service on the peninsula? Make the HSR passengers debark at San Jose and take a connecting baby bullet the rest of the way. It might add a half hour to the trip, you say? Big deal! There are worse problems in this world.

I predict those HSR trains will be nearly empty anyway, assuming the next governor doesn't scuttle the project as he or she should. Anyone who wants to get from SoCal to the bay area in a hurry can fly to and from a variety of airports. That is the one thing missing from the HSR equation: an estimate of competitive market share.


13 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2017 at 2:22 pm

Q (Ahem): why is Palo Alto even thinking about building Caltrain's infrastructure? If Palo Alto builds the infrastructure who owns it? If Palo Alto owns it, can Palo Alto charge Caltrain a toll to use it?

A (ODB): They're not.

Does any have an answer for the questions above? ODB's answer can't be correct. Palo Alto City Staff is thinking about this project. Members of the City Council are thinking about this project. Council member Filseth is clearly thinking about this project and even weighted in with a comment. ODB has more post on the thread than anyone else. It is hard to believe ODB is not thinking about this project, unless he/she is posting without thinking.

Councilman Filseth has suggested this will be by far the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken by the City of Palo Alto. When it is completed, who will own it? Caltreain? City of Palo Alto? Southern Pacific? No one?


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Ahem:

You have demonstrated a lack of understanding of legal precedent regarding grade separation and the concept of eminent domain.

I'll let someone else explain those things to you.


10 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 10, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

Unfortunately, the High Speed Rail Authority has brought the option of a passing track in Palo Alto back into play despite the constraints of our exceptionally narrow Caltrain right of way. The HSRA discussed it at the CC Rail Com meeting a few months ago. It is one of the three alternatives they are considering for the peninsula. CARRD has tried to get the city to engage with the HSRA on this, but there has not been attention on it to date.


7 people like this
Posted by HSR = Evil
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2017 at 6:41 pm

There you go ODB. HSR is the embodiment of evil.


8 people like this
Posted by Ralph
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 10, 2017 at 9:32 pm

While Menlo Park is looking at grade separation plans Web Link our city govt is pointing fingers, babbling about the best way to screw in a light bulb, and generally once again setting the citizens of this city up for yet another massive failure in leadership.

City Govt, look at that well executed rail corridor guide that was completed and approved by this very same city govt several years ago. It an easy read and well thought. Stop debating how to arrange the chairs at the table and start putting up some realistic and viable grade separation designs with dollar and possible (and very undesirable) eminent domain property costs. Evaluate the likely sources of funding, including the alleged VTA tax dollars, floating a bond, and any other possible sources. Please STOP acting like fools and pretending that the rest of the world will wait for Palo Alto to squat, strain, and drop a wonderful palo alto perfect plan. It does not exist.


3 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Sep 11, 2017 at 8:14 pm

No matter how long people bleat and moan, at the end of the (rather long) day there will be a San Carlos like elevated berm with half-underpasses. The only question is how many people will die and horns will honk before then.


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2017 at 8:35 pm

"there will be a San Carlos like elevated berm with half-underpasses."

That would be the best solution. They need to engage the right engineering firm to make it happen.

San Carlos used Hexagon Transportation Consultants in San Jose and so should Palo Alto.


19 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2017 at 9:12 pm

Hexagon is the same firm that produces all of Palo Alto's bogus traffic and parking studies. If you like the mess Hexagon has made of Palo Alto's parking and traffic, you are going to love their berm.






Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2017 at 12:52 pm

"you are going to love their berm."

I love the berm they built in San Carlos. It doesn't lay waste to the surrounding terrain as the M.M. design does.


16 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 12, 2017 at 3:57 pm

I don't understand the entitled attitude from those pushing for the berm.

Palo Alto isn't San Carlos. In San Carlos Caltrain goes through a corridor that is mostly industrial and commercial with some retail and only a few homes. As far as I know no homes were taken in San Carlos.

San Carlos is not a good model for Palo Alto. To build a berm in Palo Alto quite a few homes will need to be taken and many more will be permanently impacted by whatever is built and an increase in Caltrain traffic.


4 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2017 at 5:48 pm

"To build a berm in Palo Alto quite a few homes will need to be taken"

[Portion removed.] You don't know that -- nobody does -- because the berm option HAS NOT BEEN STUDIED for Palo Alto. [Portion removed.]

"increase in Caltrain traffic."

Guess what -- the Caltrain traffic is already there with more on the way, and even more railroad traffic after that with HSR. Although most Palo Altans disapprove, try and stop it. You'd be doing the entire state of California a favor if you can stop HSR.

[Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Bill Ross
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 12, 2017 at 9:10 pm

I never thought I would agree with Pat Burt but his comment on HSRA alternatives is right on point, and deserves to be discussed seriously by the full City Council as soon as possible. The present lack of coordinated, current and ongoing information on the interrelationship between HSR and existing Caltrain operations and planned expansion and resulting real negative impact on the City, its businesses and neighborhoods to the City Council is unacceptable. Any review of the right-of-way acquisition results of HSR in Kern County alone indicates that a greater "taking" of right-of-way from both public and private property can result. The City Council needs to take steps now that will be effective to avoid a comparable result.


7 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 12, 2017 at 9:27 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ Jean - The "entitled" are the ones that think Palo Alto is too good for a berm, and think we deserve a multi billion dollar trench or tunnel. The homes along the tracks are going to be affected by the increase in Caltrain traffic no matter what, so at least let's mitigate vehicle traffic. No homes need be taken with a berm either.


3 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2017 at 2:22 am

One plan that has been drawn up for CPA is a 2% trench from San Antonio to as far north as Matadero creek. From that point north the trains would travel over the existing route which includes three crossings which are already grade separated.

A trench or tunnel running the full length of town would cost tens of billions of dollars. It would involve the total reconstruction of those three crossings, with the added complication of crossing creeks and dealing with aquifers. No homes would likely be taken but the money would have to come from somewhere. How much additional property and sales tax are you willing to pay for how many years to pay for all of that?

"No homes need be taken with a berm either."

john_alderman is right. Palo Alto needs to get over itself, wise up and recognize the economic and practical benefits of the berm solution, and CPA needs to engage an engineering firm which knows how to design that kind of crossing.


5 people like this
Posted by HSR = Evil
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

"A trench or tunnel running the full length of town would cost tens of billions of dollars. "

And you accuse me of hyperbole? You're overestimating by quite a bit. Who are you trying to scare? The numbers from the HMM study are not even close to what you're postulating.

"john_alderman is right. Palo Alto needs to get over itself, wise up and recognize the economic and practical benefits of the berm solution, and CPA needs to engage an engineering firm which knows how to design that kind of crossing."

You claim to be in Old Palo Alto. You must be on the far side of it to think a berm is a good solution. I guess you won't mind having train noise project further into your part of the neighborhood, because that's what will happen when you elevate trains. Even with electrification, there will be lots of noise.


5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 13, 2017 at 3:18 pm

Riding BART is deafening (100dB), particularly around Glen Park or through the transbay tube.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2017 at 4:07 pm

"No homes need be taken with a berm either."

Homes would indeed be taken. Not physically demolished, but their values would be severely diminished by that overwhelming pile of dirt or concrete immediately beyond their backyard fences, and by unscreened train noise coming from on high at close range. The owners would be due compensation for that taking. Add that compensation to the costs.

Look, just close those crossings and be done with it.


4 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2017 at 5:01 pm

@Curmudgeon,

The San Carlos berm appears to be made of compacted earth and is over twice as wide at the base as it is at the top. The base of a similar berm might be a lot closer to many Palo Alto homes than just over their back fence.

In all likelihood a portion of many residential backyards would need to be taken to accommodate the base of the berm and barrier fencing which in San Carlos is located a least a couple of feet offset from the base of the berm at grade level.

People denying that the building of a berm will require the taking of properties are just pretending to themselves that it won't happen so they won't feel like Bolshivik @@$%0!&$.

Caltrain electrification is really just the CalHSR model applied on a smaller scale.


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2017 at 5:06 pm

"The numbers from the HMM study are not even close to what you're postulating."

Of course they're not. H.M.M. did not even consider a full-length, five-mile tunnel or trench. Complete reconstruction of , or tunneling under, Oregon (with its water-table issues), Embarcadero and University would easily run into the multi billions when "cost overruns" are taken into account.

Tunneling under University is a non-starter. You'd have to get the trains back to grade to go over the creek and the distance is too short for even a 2% grade. Or, you would have to go under the creek and cross a political boundary into San Mateo county. Good luck with that.

Many of these ideas fall apart when you get a grip on reality and scrutinize them.


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2017 at 5:15 pm

"In all likelihood a portion of many residential backyards would need to be taken to accommodate the base of the berm"

You're not a civil engineer so your unqualified opinion is meaningless. Neither you nor I know how wide a berm must be. Let a qualified engineer study the situation and render an opinion.


7 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 13, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Put it on the ballot for November. 3 choices - berm (AKA Berm-lin wall), tunnel or leave things as-is / gated crossings. Let the people decide.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2017 at 5:57 pm

"People denying that the building of a berm will require the taking of properties are just pretending to themselves that it won't happen so they won't feel like Bolshivik @@$%0!&$."

Yup. Property is taken whether the berm crosses the property line or not. Law sez we gotta pay for it.

"Caltrain electrification is really just the CalHSR model applied on a smaller scale."

Everybody loves an electric train. It's the little kid in us.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2017 at 6:04 pm

"Tunneling under University is a non-starter. You'd have to get the trains back to grade to go over the creek and the distance is too short for even a 2% grade."

Cog railroads readily handle much steeper grades than that. They're common in Switzerland, where our electric trains are to be made. Easy fix here if we actually think outside the box.


3 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2017 at 6:19 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Curmudgeon - " Not physically demolished, but their values would be severely diminished "

The trains predate every homeowner along the track. It is galling to buy a house, pay less because it is next to the train tracks, then complain about noise.

@Ahem - "People denying that the building of a berm will require the taking of properties are just pretending"

A berm needn't be any wider than the existing right of way, but even if it did you have 5 lanes of Alma on one side, so why would you take houses?


6 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2017 at 7:10 am

Alderman said: "A berm needn't be any wider than the existing right of way, but even if it did you have 5 lanes of Alma on one side, so why would you take houses?"

First, I would never take ANY homes, I find the whole idea of a state enterprise like Caltrain "taking" (stealing) private property abhorrent.

Second, an inexpensive San Carlos type berm needs to be twice as wide at the base as it is at the top. A berm with vertical (or near vertical) walls would be much more expensive and should be called a viaduct, not a berm. A viaduct would be at least as expensive as a trench. A San Carlos style berm will require property beyond the ROW, or SP, Caltrain and Cal HSR will have to accept a significant reduction in the real-estate available to them at the top of the berm for rails.

Third, taking a lane or lanes from Alma would defeat the whole purpose of Caltrain electrification by reducing Palo Alto's and the region's transportation capacity. Remember, Caltrain only serves 30,000 people (<1% of the Peninsula's population) and only a few hundred Palo Alto residents. Alma serves more people in Palo Alto alone than all of Caltrain.

It is really hard to keep an obsolete transportation technology alive. End of life care is very expensive, the patient doesn't like it, and within a relatively short amount of time, you are ultimately going to fail.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 14, 2017 at 1:34 pm

"The trains predate every homeowner along the track"

So what?

"It is galling to buy a house, pay less because it is next to the train tracks, then complain about noise."

It is even more galling to have someone who lives in an elite remote neighborhood advocate depreciating someone else's property value by putting a huge pile of dirt adjacent to their back yard.

Look, if you really think that berm is gonna be such a gorgeous thing, why not trade houses with someone on Park Ave and admire your baby close up anytime you want to?


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2017 at 1:52 pm

"an inexpensive San Carlos type berm needs to be twice as wide at the base as it is at the top. A berm with vertical (or near vertical) walls would be much more expensive and should be called a viaduct, not a berm. A viaduct would be at least as expensive as a trench. A San Carlos style berm will require property beyond the ROW"

More fear mongering using made-up non facts from a non engineer.

An aerial photo of the crossing in San Carlos disproves your claims. So far your disinformation campaign isn't doing too well.


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2017 at 1:59 pm

"Cog railroads readily handle much steeper grades than that."

They won't work for multi-ton freight trains.

Yeah, Palo Alto needs more citizen input all right. Get the trolls who spread lies and disinformation here get involved in the planning process.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2017 at 2:46 pm

The 2% maximum was requested not by freight, but by HSR. Now, depending on how HSR goes with the next state governor remains to be seen whether this requirement stands.

Totally under grounding the entire length would require cooperation with Menlo Park to tunnel their side as well. That's why the HMM study surfaces the train before California Avenue.

ODB - you keep referring to San Carlos as an example. The close alignment with Alma and housing makes it different than San Carlos. The ROW is more narrow in Palo Alto (see Pat Burt's comment above). Your berm concept is going to have to take properties (a nonstarter in Palo Alto) or take over Alma, which will put even more traffic pressure on Middlefield and other "N/S" (actually more E/W in some places) arteries in the city.

This is not a situation where you can isolate the impact along the ROW. There is a cascading effect throughout the city street grid if you basically close crossings (keeping them at grade essentially does that) or impact Alma permanently.

With the expected increase in Caltrain service from electrification and Google basically taking over Tamien in San Jose, anything at grade is basically closing that crossing. We need to grade separate, but without taking houses or negatively impacting traffic flows for the city.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 14, 2017 at 4:21 pm

""Cog railroads readily handle much steeper grades than that."

They won't work for multi-ton freight trains."


Sure they will. Just do the engineering. You want a train ditch, don't you?

BTW, ALL non-toy trains are multi-ton. Big time multi-ton.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 14, 2017 at 4:24 pm

"With the expected increase in Caltrain service from electrification and Google basically taking over Tamien in San Jose, anything at grade is basically closing that crossing."

How much is Google paying to mitigate its impacts up the line?


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2017 at 4:51 pm

"ODB - you keep referring to San Carlos as an example. The close alignment with Alma and housing makes it different than San Carlos. The ROW is more narrow in Palo Alto (see Pat Burt's comment above). Your berm concept is going to have to take properties (a nonstarter in Palo Alto) or take over Alma"

You're not a civil engineer and neither am I. Berms have never been studied for Palo Alto by M.M. nor by anyone else. Let a qualified engineering firm determine if a "San Carlos" crossing is feasible at one or more crossings in Palo Alto. Absent a judgement from a qualified engineering firm, all these amateur pronouncements about taking homes and portions of Alma street are whistling Dixie. If it's infeasible, as determined by a qualified engineer, then so be it. Berms deserve to at least be studied.

The cruft being spread by certain individuals here just muddies the water and is quite tiresome.

More "community input" indeed.


4 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2017 at 4:52 pm

Hmmm... I think Atherton wants Caltrain underground and if they don't get what they want will probably sue anyone they can, up one side and down the other. Menlo Park only has one station and about 1.75 miles of track...


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2017 at 9:58 pm

"How much is Google paying to mitigate its impacts up the line?"

Probably nothing since it's all in San Jose. Caltrain simply will amp up service to meet demand.

It's their ROW, after all. And, as some folks like to remind us in Palo Alto, the line predates all housing here.

That's why we can't just sit back and let things happen. Doing nothing means essentially closing down all at-grade crossings up-and-down the peninsula.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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